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Of human bondage

K. RAJAN

Vaikom Mohammed Basheer’s novel ‘Mathilukal’ was staged in Palakkad to pay tribute to the writer.



No boundaries: M.R. Gopakumar and KPAC Lalitha appeared as Basheer and Narayani in the stage version of Mathilukal,’ directed by Promod Payyannur.

For KPAC Lalitha, the staging of Vaikom Mohammed Basheer’s novel ‘Mathilukal’ was akin to turning back the pages of her life.

“There is not even a day that goes by without me remembering my KPAC theatre days. It is really a thrill to act on the stage,” said Lalitha. She appeared on the stage after a break of 32 years as Narayani, the heroine of ‘Mathilukal.’

The popular response to the play, with Lalitha appearing as the heroine Narayani, was palpable given the fact that the film version of the novel by Adoor Gopalakrishnan (1989) had her unseen presence throughout. It was her voice that breathed life into Narayani. The play, directed and scripted by Promod Payyannur, was staged to a packed audience at Palakkad Town Hall on March 8.

The theme of the novel, published in 1967, focusses on the love between Basheer, a prisoner, and a female inmate of the prison, who remains unseen throughout the novel. The huge prison walls keep apart the protagonist and the heroine. Basheer hears the voice of a woman from across the wall when he enters the prison. After all the other prisoners leave, Basheer feels lonely. It is then that he falls in love with the woman across the wall.

Unlike in Adoor’s ‘Mathilukal,’ which starred Mammootty as the hero, Promod’s play closely follows the original story. The play starts with Basheer, the writer, sitting in his familiar planter’s chair and ruminating over the creation of artificial walls between peoples. IbrahimVengara plays the aged Basheer. M.R. Gopakumar, a seasoned theatre person, put up a brilliant performance as Basheer the prisoner.

Exploring theatre

“Adoor made use of the possibilities of film in his ‘Mathilukal.’ We, on the other hand, are exploring the possibilities of theatre,” said Promod. The stage setting of the play was such that both Lalitha and Gopakumar could be seen by the audience while the two actors remain hidden from each other. Gopakumar was at his best in scenes that showed Basheer being accompanied by a constable and his communication with Lalitha. Unni Sattar, who appeared as Basheer’s friend in the prison, was commendable.

Promod Payyannur’s skill as a director was visible in the effective use of space. Ibrahim Vengara’s simple gestures conveyed the picture of the writer sitting under the shade of a tree. Scenes that showed Basheer being led amidst the audience and the hanging of Basheer’s friend were superbly portrayed. Lighting arrangements by Gopinath Kozhikode were effective.

The play ends with Basheer standing outside the prison with a rose in his hand.

The one-and-a-half-hour-long play, conceptualised as a tribute to the legendary writer in his centenary year, could not, however, completely do justice to the story.

The attempt to depict Basheer as a man with a world of philosophical ideas of his own, could not be fully materialized through the play. Gopakumar’s rendering of the dialogue, “Who wants freedom?,” at the end of the drama, seemed contrived and lacked the intensity of emotion it required.

The cast included Sujith C.D, Sivadasan Kongad, K.A. Nandajan and Ranjana. Music was scored by Ramesh Narayanan. The event was organised by the Palakkad Chapter of Swaralaya.

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